The Capitalist in Colonial History: Investment, Accumulation and Credit-Money in New South Wales

05 July 2021

Capitalists and labourers have long been regarded among the great antagonists of Australian historiography. Yet where the latter has been subjected to constant analysis by successive generations of historians, the formation of ‘the capitalist’ has received scant attention. This article reassesses this figure as a discrete colonial type, not as the ubiquitous owner of the means of production, but as a conflicted and contested subject of imperial transformation. By layering a series of perspectives on the capitalist as a category of government, a model of calculative skill and parsimonious morality, as a contested popular discourse, and whose relations were structured by the ‘inherent hierarchy of money’, this reassessment also offers fresh perspectives on the processes of settler capitalism. It highlights the social, political and technological linkages that promoted valuation, investment and wealth accumulation as intrinsic to Australian settlement and the credit-money relations that made settler expansion dynamic but fragile.